Riverside has hired an urban planner to lead its Building Department, a move that spotlights a change in village government’s approach towards planning and development.

Sonya Abt, who serves as village planner in northwest suburban Bartlett, will become Riverside’s community development director on May 5, Village Manager Peter Scalera announced at the April 17 meeting of the Riverside Village Board.

“She has experience dealing with plan commissions and zoning boards and does all of the zoning application review for Bartlett,” said Scalera. “She’ll serve as the face of the department for presentations and has economic development experience.”

One of the experiences Abt has had that was certainly attractive to Scalera was her recent involvement in a major streetscaping project for West Bartlett Road, which serves as a gateway for that village. The street, which leads to the village’s downtown area, runs parallel to a rail line and includes a bike path.

Abt wrote the application that resulted in Bartlett winning an Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP) grant for the project, which was finished last summer.

“I was the lead on the corridor plan,” said Abt, who has worked in Bartlett for 13 years, 11 of them as village planner. “We came up with a capital project along the portion we controlled. We wanted to enhance it to make it more inviting for people to come into our town.”

Riverside last week learned that it will receive a $754,600 ITEP grant to fund a major overhaul of East Burlington Street in downtown Riverside. Abt will be a major player in the development of the final plan for the work, which is expected to take place in 2015.

Abt’s hire is the first step in the reorganization of the Riverside Building Department. Scalera said he hopes to hire a part-time building inspector soon. The presence of a building inspector will free up Abt to focus on community development. According to Scalera, Abt will be the point of contact for anyone interested in bringing a new business or development to Riverside.

Because she won’t be out in the field every day inspecting building sites, it will also make her more available to discuss prospective projects and field questions, according to Scalera.

“She will be easily accessible to residents, contractors and business owners to answer questions or concerns,” said Scalera.

Abt said that, in addition to the Burlington Street project, she’s been advised of several initiatives she’ll be working on, including an update of the village’s sign code and, possibly, a comprehensive plan for the village.

Prior to her years as a planner in Bartlett, Abt worked from 1999-2001 as associate planner for the village of Carol Stream.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in urban and regional planning at the University of Illinois-Champaign in 1998 and a master’s degree in public administration at University of Illinois-Chicago in 2003.

Abt was chosen from a field of 34 applicants. Her starting salary will be $91,000, according to Scalera.